This Month's Picks

Untethered Moon (CD)

Built To Spill

If you thought Built to Spill’s first album in six years would be some somber collection reflecting the band’s elder statesman status, think again. Untethered Moon roars right out of the gate, on “All Our Songs.” Doug Martsch lives up to his indie guitar hero mythos with fluttering space cowboy licks and cosmic solos, singing lines in a creeping whisper that could be self-deprecating or sarcastic, but it’s tough not to feel a thrill when he sings, “rock and roll will be here forever.” “New Zoo” builds on that momentum, as new guns Steve Gere (drums) and Jason Albertini (bass) prove their meddle with a steadily building groove over which Martsch drapes intricate guitar lacework, opening up into an R.E.M.-inspired melody. There’s a sense of futility to Martsch’s lyrics that can be funny at times or a drag at others—one song is called “Some Other Song”—but the irony is that Untethered Moon brims with energy and melodic ideas (for the record, “Some Other Song” is one of the album’s catchiest tunes). However exhausting the journey may be playing with the same band for more than 20 years, it’s clearly refined Martsch’s craft to the point that Untethered Moon feels effortless and powerful.

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Genre: Rock

Damogen Furies (CD)

Squarepusher

In 2015 the overload of the senses is rather hard to impress upon humans. As information flows freely at a breakneck pace, anesthetized youths engage in a barrage of cultural and emotional assaults on the daily. There seems to be an infinite capacity to the modern humans’ sensory intake. Enter Tom Jekinson AKA Squarepusher. IDM’s antidote to the sonically apathetic. In Damogen Furies Squarepusher has concocted a Free-Jazz inspired unity with the current sound of EDM. The unifying qualities however tend to sound more like an affable acknowledgement of the times backed with an uppercut of unpredictable drill and bass. This unpredictability is due to the spontaneous recording techniques at Jekinson’s disposal. A setup that he created on the road to imitate his home studio, which allows him to record and mix everything in one take. Once that fact comes into view the epic club banger vibe of the opener “Stor Eiglass” or the proficient build of the '80s synth-scape “Exjag Nives” all the more impressive. The bombastic spontaneity of Damogen Furies is equally as innovative as Squarepusher has known to be in the past, with a brutality that matches the current landscape. Brace yourself.

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Sound & Color (CD)

Alabama Shakes

Alabama Shakes’ meteoric rise thankfully hasn’t tarnished what made them special to begin with. Sound & Color is an assured follow-up to Boys & Girls, further defining the band’s garage-blues sound without just relying on singer/guitarist Brittany Howard’s explosive voice to carry the show. The title track features some gorgeous harmonies and orchestral touches that start the album off in a classy way. But Sound & Color quickly proves gritty, as Howard’s banshee wail rips open first single “Don’t Wanna Fight.” “Dunes” is a deep, weird Beatlesesque track that finds Howard struggling to maintain her identity among rising fame (this one has “fan favorite” written all over it). Although it’s pretty obvious how powerful Howard’s voice can be, it reveals new shadings across the album, vacillating between a sweet coo and penetrating cry on the celestial funk of “Future People” and curling into a wild croon and big belt on “Gimme All Your Love.” About that voice—it’s impressive for sure, and Howard and co. have figured out when and where to unleash it, marking the biggest improvement the band has made. When the band does let loose on tracks like garage burner “The Greatest,” the results are all the more sublime. It’s rare when a band can capitalize on hype without succumbing to it as Alabama Shakes have; rarer still that they can avoid the sophomore slump with such aplomb. Alabama Shakes succeed with flying colors on their second outing.  

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Genre: Rock

How Do You Feel Now? (CD)

Joywave

Aptly named Joywave are leading the charge of a genre-less, pretentious-less, alternative pop era. The sound lies somewhere between the unapologetic body shaking of Hot Chip and the cinematic appeal of Bleachers, the latter being current tour-mates. The appeal of Joywave however is the outright denial of the placeholder conformism of such comparisons. Case in point they have wryly claimed their music is a mash up of Pitbull and Coldplay. After receiving critical acclaim from underground mixtapes, culminating in a feature spot on Big Data’s hit single "Dangerous," Joywave found an audience. They dropped the How Do You Feel EP a year later to an outpour of media attention. Several months and a couple of viral music videos later, the boys from Rochester are back to ask How Do You Feel Now? The album continues in the same vein of the EP. In fact, all four tracks remain on the album including the danceable savage single “Tongues.” Curveballs include the Generation Y dirge “Traveling at the Speed of Light” and the robotic hip-hoperatic closer “Bad Dreams.” Exploration aside, the pop spirit of How Do You Feel Now? is what drives the record and the group itself. That spirit, akin to the joyful ecstatic hum of a young festivalgoer’s experience awaiting climax. That is what Joywave has to offer. And there is no doubt that, with the release of this record, they will soon provide said festivalgoer with one hell of a payoff.

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Genre: Rock

Edge Of The Sun (CD)

Calexico

Calexico releases have always been eclectic collections stringing together various strings of Americana and indie rock into what’s been referred to as “desert noir.” Edge of the Sun feels like their most refined release while staying as diverse as ever, augmented by the duo’s sojourn in Mexico City while writing the record. Though it’s dotted with upbeat, jangling country-rock numbers, Edge of the Sun pit stops in Tejano territory (“Coyoacan”), hits up dusky biker bars along the road (“Bullets & Rocks”) and stops to come up with a killer electro-cumbia tune (“Cumbia De Donde”). Guests show up to keep the party going—Neko Case makes “Tapping on the Line” a gorgeous electro-country duet, while Ben Bridwell from Band of Horses helps take the soaring “Falling From the Sky” achieve lift-off. It’s a fine line Calexico walk, but nine studio albums in and the band is able to confidently wrangle a wide swath of sounds for an unpredictable album that is altogether gripping.  

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Genre: Rock

The Powers That B (CD)

Death Grips

Remember when rap-rock was a bad thing, before Death Grips came along and radically re-created the genre? That’s not really fair to Death Grips—they basically created their own genre of aggressive electro noise, Zach Hill’s wildman drumming and MC Ride’s berserk raps. The Powers That B might be the last Death Grips album, since the band announced it was disbanding last year, and accordingly, the trio plays through The Powers That B as if their lives depend on it—or, perhaps more appropriately, like they’re on a suicide mission. From the get-go, Disc Two doesn’t let up, starting with out-of-breath spring “I Break Mirrors With My Face in the United States.” From there, we rev up through “Inanimate Session,” which starts literally sounding and feeling like the uphill chug of a roller coaster before the inevitable set of winding loops that unsettle your sense of balance. By comparison to its opening tracks, the robot-metal of a track like “Why a Bitch Gotta Lie” may feel like a reprieve; at the very least, it’s a worthy entry point, as is the nearly danceable caveman-stomper “Beyond Alive” and epic “On GP.” Although Death Grips aren’t really about accessibility, Jenny Death is the most engaging thing they’ve done in some time, since their breakthrough release, The Money Store. Meanwhile, the previously online-only first disc, Niggas on the Moon, features Bjork samples warped into hyper-real chirps and percussive elements; it’s a more difficult listen, but one that fans of Death Grips’ extremism should appreciate. Taken together, it’s an utterly intense listen; you may not remember your own name after taking in two discs of Death Grips’ unrelenting force, which means it’s the consummate way to experience Death Grips.

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Genre: Rock

Black Metal (CD)

Dean Blunt

Dean Blunt’s Black Metal exists in some mystery universe between King Krule, The Weeknd and Galaxie 500. On one hand, the experimental pop artist, who put out the acclaimed sound collage mixtape The Redeemer, last year and who was once one-half of the duo Hype Williams, touches on the indie-pop past of his label, Rough Trade, with airy guitar-and-piano soundscapes. But unexpected elements, like an ‘80s pulse on “X,” cut-up beats on “Forever” and female counterpart vocals on songs like the jangly “100,” keep things endlessly intriguing, while Blunt’s dry delivery cuts through dreamy tracks like “50 Cent,” giving them an urgency that contrasts sharply with the austere music. On one hand, it can be a little jarring to hear such disparate sounds on one record, as Black Metal’s second half takes electro/hip hop detours that sound pulled from an entirely different album. But when Black Metal works, it really is seamless, and music that sounds messy on paper is nothing less than sublime on record.

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Black Messiah (CD)

D'Angelo

The long-awaited Black Messiah caps off 2014 as the year’s best soul album. But to call it soul or R&B would be reductive. Even more so than D’Angelo’s previous two albums, the excellent Brown Sugar and neo-soul masterpiece Voodoo, Black Messiah eschews any preconceived notions of what R&B, pop, music in general should be. Black Messiah draws upon a rich history of black music, notably blues, jazz and gospel and funk, and blows them out into billowing, smokey jams that seep under your skin, work their way into your veins. “Ain’t That Easy” rides hard on The Vanguard’s hip-hop beat and raunchy funk chords, while D’Angelo delivers an impassioned vocal and conciliatory lyrics like a sleek modern-day update of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.” “1,000 Deaths” lays out Black Messiah’s other theme, starting with a powerful passage by an African American preacher that rails against the presentation of Jesus as a white savior. Over The Vanguard’s stuttering, skronking beat, D’Angelo’s multitracked vocal paints a harrowing picture but makes its most memorable couplet a rallying cry for the oppressed (“A coward dies a thousand times/But a soldier only dies just once), ending in an ecstatic, Prince-worthy cry and Hendrixy guitar explosions. Like Erykah Badu’s New Amerykah albums, or (aesthetically) like Kanye West’s Yeezus, Black Messiah is remarkably adventurous throughout. “The Charade” shuffles along a beat reminiscent of Radiohead’s “There, There,” dazzles with springs of sitar and builds to a thick climax. Similarly, “Back to the Future (Part I)” and “II” breaks up a future-funk suite about breaking up, keeping you engaged with its heady groove. Black Messiah’s more accessible moments make for some of the loveliest songwriting D’Angelo’s put to tape, with lush devotionals like “Till It’s Done (Tutu)” and “Really Love” and the jaunty alien jazz of “Sugah Daddy” making for perfect mixtape material. D’Angelo definitely kept us waiting a while for this one, but his remarkably consistent catalog to this point shows that the best things come to those who wait. Truly, Black Messiah is a densely layered soul masterpiece.

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Genre: Soul

Looking for Johnny: The Legend of Johnny Thunders (DVD)

From his beginnings to his tragic death in 1991, Looking for Johnny documents the legendary hard-living rock 'n' roll guitarist who inspired glam-metal, punk, and the music scene in general as a member of the New York Dolls, The Heartbrearkers, and beyond.

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Devo: Hardcore Live! (DVD)

Devo captured live in Oakland, performing early experimental tracks. No matter how messy, beginnings are exciting. Especially when what happens next endures the test of time. For Devo the beginning happened in the basements and garages of Akron, Ohio. The songs they wrote were raw and unfiltered with no commercial intent. They called it Hardcore Devo. Performing 21 oddities, intercut with poignant stories told by Mark, Jerry and Bob 1, this program is a tribute to the departed Bob "Bob 2" Casale.

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